In March, Buzzfeed broke the news that Facebook is building an Instagram for kids under the age of 13 — obtained via an internal Instagram post. At a US congressional hearing on misinformation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg confirmed the reports, saying that they’re “early in [their] thinking” in how an app for kids would work.
Needless to say, parents aren’t happy. Buzzfeed commenters aren’t happy (one quote: “Congratulations Instagram for making every pedophile’s dream come true.”). Congresspeople aren’t happy.
Actually, congresspeople really aren’t happy. On May 10, attorneys general from 44 states and territories in the US wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, urging Facebook to abandon these plans — using that exact wording.
Why? They cited the fact that the “use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account”.
They also brought up the fact that Facebook has “historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms”.
This fact has been seen on many occasions, including within our own country. A look into the internet usage of Australian teenagers found that 30% of teens had been contacted by a stranger or someone not known to them and 20% had received “inappropriate, unwanted” content — including pornography or violent material.
That’s not the only horrific side to Instagram for children though, with online bullying being a huge factor. In 2019, there was a 200% rise in recorded instances via Instagram to target and abuse children.
30% of Australian teens say their negative online experience “related to bullying that occurred at school”. Instagram is also ranked as one of the most detrimental applications for young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Rachel Evans, head of fashion at The Iconic and mother of two, said, “Having kids now, this [Instagram for Kids] is definitely a big worry for us. We will be pushing back on opening this world to our children as long as possible — which parents would know is so much easier said than done.”
Evans is not the only parent concerned about the wellbeing of their children online. According to an expert quoted in The Washington Post, “Parents’ main concern about allowing young kids on social media is exposure to sexual content and predators.”
The open letter touched upon this, saying that “[Children] are also simply too young to navigate the complexities of what they encounter online, including inappropriate content and online relationships where other users, including predators, can cloak their identities using the anonymity of the internet.”
A recount in The Times UK showed exactly how this can play out. Child advocate, Chris McKenna, created a fake Instagram account of a 12-year-old girl — and received “dozens” of images of male genitals and hardcore pornography through direct messages.
Although Facebook claims that Instagram for kids would be “a parent-controlled experience” — similar to its current Messenger Kids app — it has failed to mention Messenger Kids experienced a flaw where children could enter group chats with unapproved strangers.
At the time of the Messenger Kids launch, there was a similar backlash. In fact, there were over 100 signatories calling for Facebook to discontinue the app — coming from child advocates, civil society groups, medical experts and more.
Like the letter concludes, “It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account.”
If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here. If you are in immediate danger, call 000